Fiji and Japan back in contention for PNC

Fiji and Japan stormed back into contention in the Pacific Nations Cup on Saturday with thrilling victories over first-round winners Samoa and Tonga to blow the tournament wide open.

All four teams now have one win and a loss from their first two games meaning the honours will be decided in the third and final round, to be played in Lautoka, in Fiji, on Wednesday.

The hosts recovered from their surprise 45-21 hiding by Tonga in the first round to beat defending champions Samoa 36-18 while Japan, beaten first up by Samoa, held on for a narrow 28-27 win over Tonga.

The match was sealed for Japan in the third quarter when they posted two converted tries to turn a 14-17 deficit at half-time into a 28-17 lead and they were then strong enough defensively to hold out the desperate Tongans.

Captain Takeshi Kikutani scored the first of the game-breaking tries when he crashed through a disorganised Tongan pack who had been wrong-footed by diminutive scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka.

Play had no sooner resumed when Koji Taira cut through the Tongan defence.

Ryukoliniasi Holani and Kosuke Endo scored in the first half for Japan with all four tries converted by James Arlidge, while Viliami Ma’afu, Kurt Morath and Hudson Tonga’uiha scored for Tonga.

Morath finished with a match haul of 17 points with the addition of three conversions and two penalties.

Fiji played with much more intensity against Samoa than they showed against Tonga, running in five tries with Nicky Little and Waisea Luveniyali landing two conversions each and Little also kicked a penalty.

Flying winger Vereniki Goneva opened Fiji’s account with a try in the seventh minute with Little adding the conversion and a penalty.

Samoa briefly led 11-10 midway through the first half when wing Sailosi Tagicakibau scored after Tasesa Lavea and James So’oialo had kicked penalties.

Just before halftime, loosehead prop Campese Ma’afu scored for the hosts and when Little kicked the conversion Fiji went into the second half with a 17-11 lead which they never surrendered.

Tonga, with bonus points from both games so far, head the table with six points while Fiji, Samoa and Japan have five each.

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